MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE STRAWBERRY
Mary delves into the stories around this wonderful summertime treat
With August comes an abundance of locally grown soft fruit which, I think, can be one of the best and easiest puddings to serve. Picked ripe and in perfect condition there is nothing better than a bowl of fresh strawberries with cream or ice-cream and a sprinkle of sugar if you are so inclined.
Months of ignoring those tasteless imported berries are repaid in full by that wonderful burst of summer time you get when you bite into your first local strawberry of the year.
As with many of our favourite ingredients, strawberries come with a fascinating history which is surrounded by symbolism and folklore. The berries and the flowers were believed to symbolise righteousness and perfection and were included in Christian art through the centuries, the leaves being trifoliate and representing the trinity.
During medieval times stonemasons would carve strawberries into altars and at the top of pillars in churches and cathedrals. Pagan belief was very similar with the three leaves representing the three-fold Earth or Mother Goddess.
It was the Victorians who believed the berry symbolised perfection, sweetness in life and character and possibly modesty as the berries are hidden by their leaves. Due to their bright red colour and heart shape, strawberries are the symbol for Venus, the goddess of love.
Legends often tell about love rituals, saying that you should be careful with whom you share a double strawberry, as it is destined that the two of you will fall in love.
Birthmarks that are the size, shape and/or colour of the fruit are often called strawberry marks and are historically seen as a sign of witchcraft. Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, had a strawberry shaped birthmark on the back of her neck, proof she was a witch!
And, of course, there are the Roman legends about strawberries, one being that when Adonis died Venus wept tears that dropped to the earth and became heart-shaped strawberries.
Whether you believe in the folklore or not, enjoy this amazing fruit while in season, and perhaps their goodness should now relate to a healthy diet, rather than their potential influence on our lives.
Try some sugar with a difference to dip them in; whizz in the processor mint or lemon verbena with some granulated sugar, or if you have a sweet tooth, pop the fruit in the freezer until just frozen. Carefully melt some white chocolate and, when ready for your pud, pour warm chocolate on the cold berries.
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ABOVE: There are few better treats than fresh local strawberries